Learning from My 50th Fenwick Reunion

By Mike Shields ’67

I graduated from Fenwick in June 1967 and attended my 50th class reunion this past September 9th. Class reunions, particularly 50th reunions, by their very nature, are always fraught with surprises. And there is always the question of ‘going or not going,’ but this reunion was well planned, energetic, hit the right notes and, overall, my wife and I had a wonderful time. More significantly perhaps was the fact that I learned a few things about Fenwick, or was reminded about a few things, and what it meant to me and likely many of my classmates – things that one can see more clearly looking back over 50 years – a very unique perspective.

Shields, the author, knows never to stand on the Fenwick Shield!

In this blog post, I mention below some of the things that really stood out for me at this class reunion. Hopefully, these recollections will encourage others to reconnect with Fenwick and, in general, support the school’s ongoing mission to guide and inspire each and every student to lead, achieve, and serve – not only to help oneself but also to help make the world a better place.

  • Surrounded by my many classmates, almost all who had lives of achievement (i.e. U.S. Ambassador, Governor, Judge, Architect, Doctors, Lawyers, Business Executives, Entrepreneurs, etc.), I had a profound sense of feeling very fortunate of having gone to Fenwick. There is no doubt in my mind that Fenwick’s unique combination of strong ethics, drive for academic excellence and serious thinking, and its competitive and ambitious student body elevated us all to a much higher level than many other schools, not an insignificant thing during our formative teenage years. I mentioned the word fortunate but we were also very lucky to have gone to Fenwick even though I suspect many of us didn’t realize it at the time.
  • Although many of us had not seen each other since June of 1967, it was very easy to ‘pick up the conversation.’ We really enjoyed each other’s company. Why? I think the reason is that during our Fenwick years we were a lot closer to each other than we realized. Fenwick in those years was a very serious, no-nonsense place that stressed discipline, learning and achievement, and I believe we came to depend on each other to successfully make it through its rigors and challenges. That easy camaraderie was clearly visible five decades later at the reunion.
  • Throughout the evening we talked and talked, and even had a group sing of the Fenwick Fight Song. Even though so many of my classmates had truly notable life achievements, no one came across as ‘full of themselves.’ These guys were down-to-earth and seemed very satisfied with their lives. That was really good to see. And in the many conversations, it was clear they had a genuine fondness for Fenwick and what it provided them.
  • The final thing that really stood out for me during the evening was how truly dedicated the people who run Fenwick are to this day. The list of these people is long, and several were at the reunion from the school’s current President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. to dedicated teachers like Roger Finnell (who taught his very first math class at Fenwick to us in September 1963 and is still teaching!) to key staff such as Vice-President of Institutional Advancement Chris Ritten and Director of Alumni Relations Cameron Watkins; it was really clear and impressive that all of these people not only want Fenwick to continue on but to thrive and excel. They are an inspiring and dedicated group just as their counterparts back in the ’60s, etc. were.
Mike Shields in 1967 (yearbook photo)

In closing, I do hope that this blog post of my perspective on Fenwick and its lifelong value and positive impact might be read in particular by some younger alums and even a few current students. I say this because I myself over the years, as I became busy achieving my own high goals and raising a family, sometimes ‘forgot’ about Fenwick. This 50th reunion, reminded me, however, of many things, as I’ve noted above, with perhaps the most important thing being how lucky I was to go to Fenwick. It truly made a huge positive difference in my life.

About the Author: After graduating from Fenwick, Mike Shields received a bachelor’s degree in economics, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa Honors, from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1971; he received a Master of Business Administration Degree from the University of Chicago in 1973. Shields spent almost all of his professional career at Abbott Laboratories focused primarily in financial management. Mike and his wife, Karen, reside in Niles, IL.

Humble in Victory, Proud in Defeat

Like strong support of an argument, good mentors come in threes.

By John Paulett

St. Ignatius was established in Cleveland in 1886.

Perhaps it is a bit of nostalgia. It has been almost 50 years since I graduated from high school. That is enough time to make things appear better than they were. But when I remember the teachers that had the greatest effect on me, I am pretty sure my memories are something more than nostalgia. There were some giants in my classrooms — teachers who changed many lives, including mine.

I went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. The experiences were the same, I think, for students at Fenwick, Trinity, De La Salle, Leo, Mother McAuley and so many great Catholic schools with so many great educators. Three teachers come immediately to my mind.

Father John Miday, S.J., liked his arguments in threes, former student John Paulett recalls.

When I am writing or speaking today, I always form my arguments into a group of three. That comes from Father Miday, an imposing Jesuit who taught Senior English. I once answered a question he posed with just two proofs. He stared at me and his body seemed to rise up until it filled the front of the room. With a voice that rumbled from the floorboards, he said, “Do not triangles have three sides? Are not the ancient pyramids made of threes? Why, God himself! Is God not a three? And yet, young Mister Paulett has asked us to accept his argument with only two arguments.” The word “two” withered. It turned as it fell to the ground in a lonely death. I have never since tried to support a claim with less than three arguments.

I was not a football player but I knew and admired Coach John Wirtz as much as any Ignatius man. He had been at the school for many, many years. The Coach had a list of sayings, motivational phrases, I suppose, that he had mimeographed and distributed through Freshman Religion classes. We were told to memorize the adages. When Coach Wirtz met a student in the hall (not just a football player–any student), he would check on how well we had learned the lessons.

Mr. John Wirtz taught freshman religion and coached the Wildcats’ football and basketball programs for decades.

“How are you in victory, son?”

“Humble, sir.”

“And in defeat?”

“Proud, sir.”

“How do you come to the field?” Continue reading “Humble in Victory, Proud in Defeat”

Flipping the Classroom

A FENWICK ALGEBRA TEACHER IS TURNING THE TRADITIONAL LECTURE MODEL UPSIDE-DOWN.

171102_Andrew_Thompson_Class_0101
Rather than listen to his teacher lecture in class, freshman Emmett Koch works through an algebra equation with Mr. Thompson.

By Mark Vruno

For three school years now, Math Teacher Andrew Thompson has been “flipping” the educational experience for his freshman College Prep Algebra I students at Fenwick High School. Unlike their predecessors of decades past, these frosh do not sit through traditional lectures in the classroom. Instead, for homework, Mr. Thompson’s students listen to and watch 15-minute digital, audio-visual files of their teacher explaining algebraic concepts and, literally, working through equations. “They can see everything I’m writing as I’m doing it,” he explains. Then, the next day in class, students work (often together) on practice problems from their algebra textbook.

LISTEN IN AS MR. THOMPSON EXPLAINS THE CONCEPT OF COMPOUND INEQUALITIES.

Thompson spent the better part of a summer preparing and pre-recording the video files to reverse his conventional learning environment, and he has been tweaking and improving the content ever since. (He employed the use of Explain Everything, an interactive whiteboard app for Apple iPads.) One major upside of this teaching style is that a student truly can work at his or her own pace.

“An advantage of the flipped classroom model is that the videos are pause-able and re-watchable,” the teacher points out, “and they’re always available for review and/or reference via Schoology,” the school’s online learning-management system. “My students are given time almost every day to work at their own paces in class,” Thompson adds.

On the course description that Mr. Thompson distributes to parents and students at the beginning of the semester, he outlines a typical night of homework:

  • Watching one video and taking thorough notes on the [built-in] Notes Guide, which is available as a printable PDF document, or on a blank sheet of paper. “I ask students to at least copy down exactly what they see on the screen, even if they’re confused,” he explains.
  • At home, students also may finish up any in-class bookwork from the previous day. (Mr. Thompson does not grade the bookwork for completion, “only effort,” but adds that he stronglyrecommends that his students do it.)
  • Other reinforcing homework might include completing a practice quiz/test or extra practice worksheet, which also are completed for a homework grade.

Meanwhile, back at school in Room 34, a typical day in class could include talking about due dates and upcoming events, such as chapter quizzes and unit tests. Students also will review, together, the material from the video by doing some example problems on the screen. “This is the time where students can ask questions about what they did not understand in the video,” Thompson explains, which can take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. “I highly encourage them to ask questions.” They have multiple opportunities to ask questions in class, either with everyone or one-on-one with Mr. Thompson. The teacher sees value in peer collaboration as well. “They can learn the material from one another as well as from me,” he urges. Continue reading “Flipping the Classroom”

Fighting Hatred with Hope

An African journal from Fenwick alumnus Brian Hickey ’12, who is thankful for many of the freedoms we take for granted back home.

Brian Hickey (right, sporting the Fenwick shield) with a new friend.

“It is much more difficult to hate a particular group of people after interacting with them,” explains Brian Hickey ’12. We learned about the inspiring work that Brian is doing in Djibouti from two of his former tennis coaches at Fenwick: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski and English Teacher Mr. Gerard Sullivan. “I’ve always bragged about the daring careers my ex-players go on to have, from landing planes on aircraft carriers to deep sea diving,” says Mr. Sullivan. “This is a more special type of bravery, though.”

Brian continued his tennis career at Valparaiso University in Indiana, playing there for four years and graduating in 2016. “He has taught tennis in summers to a lot of our kids in Western Springs,” Coach/Mr. Sullivan recalls. Then, “he traveled to teach school in Bethlehem (West Bank) after graduating and wanted more of that experience,” which led him to the tiny nation of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, some 7,500 miles from Oak Park.

Located in eastern Africa on the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti is a mostly French- and Arabic-speaking country of dry shrub lands, volcanic formations and beaches. It is populated by 942,333 souls, most of whom are practicing Muslims. Lying on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Djibouti serves as a gateway to the Suez Canal, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Only 25 miles across the Red Sea sets the Islamic, civil war-torn Republic of Yemen, where 7 million people are facing starvation due to a Saudi Arabian blockade, instituted last month, that is holding up food, fuel and medical aid. Malnourished children are dying at an alarming rate of one every 10 minutes, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), and many Yemenian parents are fleeing in droves the air strikes and lack of food. “We are on the brink of famine,” WFP executive director David Beasley told  CBS’s “60 Minutes” in November. (See video link below.)

Caritas is the Latin term for charity (virtue), one of the three theological virtues. Brian Hickey got involved with Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of more than 160 members who are working at the grassroots in almost every country of the world. (They have a Facebook page, too.) Mr. Sullivan calls Brian “a special person: very strong and very mild.” In two separate emails this fall, his former student and player shared insights into the joys and struggles of the migrants, natives and refugees in Djibouti:

By Brian Hickey ’12

September 19, 2017

Greetings from Djibouti! After more than two weeks in the Horn of Africa I now understand why Djibouti is considered one of the hottest countries in the world. One is perpetually sweating due to the weather feeling like a sauna EVERY HOUR of EVERY DAY. Thankfully, my colleagues claim the weather will start to cool a few degrees in October [to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or so].

Brian dons a Valpo shirt (his collegiate alma mater) in Djibouti while one of his barefoot students wears Michael Jordan sweatpants that he has outgrown.

I am the only American on the campus of people in the different ministries in Djibouti. Despite this, I am fortunate to already have a close bond with those who speak English.

Mission

Sixteen hours into arriving in Djibouti, the Bishop/person in charge of all the ministries and schools in Djibouti and Somalia drove me around part of the city I will be living in for the next year. He told me the following that articulates the vision I have of what I am committed to doing this year and in the future.

Soon after the U.S. military established a base in Djibouti as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the commander of the base met with the Bishop. The Bishop explained to him that they are both fighting extremism and terrorism, just in different ways.

Through Caritas’ many facets of aid and the schools in the area catering to a multitude of nationalities and Muslim students, we fight terrorism by providing opportunities to those who do not have much or anything at all.  We give them an opportunity for real hope instead of the empty promises groups such as al-Shabab, al-Qaeda or ISIS offer. It is much more difficult to hate a particular group of people after interacting with them. Our mission is to be the light of the world to anybody we encounter in the vast darkness that envelopes this area. Continue reading “Fighting Hatred with Hope”

Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)

A Fenwick alumnus saved his valedictory address from 72 years ago. We publish it here to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day.

By Jim Wilson ’45

706 stars: A Service Flag hanging in school depicts the number of Fenwick alumni serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during Wilson’s junior year in 1943-44 (Yearbook photo).

In 1945, Fenwick Commencement Exercises took place on June 10th, one month after Germany’s surrender from World War II. In August of that year, the United States would drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities.

For the past four years Fenwick’s graduates have been embarking on a pretty dark world. They have shouldered this responsibility of freeing that world from fear, slavery, and oppression. Because of the zeal with which they have met this responsibility we, of the class of 1945, are able to look beyond the tragedy of war and visualize a peaceful world, void of fear and oppression. We realize the responsibility of procuring a Christian peace that will be a fitting memorial, especially to those 38 Fenwick graduates who have given their lives in this conflict, and thereby made our graduation a step into a more peaceful world.

But some will ask: “Are we prepared for such a job? Are we taking enough with us from Fenwick? What have we achieved during our last four years?” These questions make us look back and meditate on our years in Fenwick. We see the progress we have made and the change that has come over us since we first became Fenwick boys. What we see makes us certain that we are ready to assume the responsibilities that the world will impose on us.

Scholastically we are prepared. We have learned how to think, how to reason. We have delved into many different fields, into the arts and sciences. We have not only learned how to form our own ideas but how to express them, both by speech and by the pen. Our high school days have been spent with our teachers, men expert in their fields, with whom association alone was enough to stimulate our intellects in the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectually, Fenwick has abundantly prepared us.

Wilson was the 1945 valedictorian at FHS.

But a full education depends upon much more than scholastic or intellectual training. The mere sharpening of wits, the sheer procuring of knowledge can be used either for good or for evil. Intellectual enlargement is dangerous unless it is accompanied by a corresponding moral growth. Our years at Fenwick have certainly been a stimulus to this moral growth. This development, however, has not been entirely dependent upon religion classes. The application of God and of moral standards to the other subjects, the discipline, the religious opportunities at Fenwick have all been instrumental in giving us a full Christian education. The faculty itself is composed of men, of priests who have devoted their lives to the development of this moral growth and education. Continue reading “Visualizing a Peaceful World (in the mid-1940s)”

Found Classroom, Found Community

What is ‘social capital,’ and how do we measure it?

By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, was a novelist and Free French Army aviator lost missing in action in 1944 during World War II.  He is paraphrased to have said, “The most important things in life are invisible and impossible to measure.”

For many years this statement applied to the benefits of Catholic education.  A recent book, Lost Classroom, Lost Community by Margaret Brining and Nicole Stelle Garnett, helps to quantify the value of Catholic education to the community.  The authors, both of whom are Notre Dame University Law School professors, studied demographic, educational and criminal statistics in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They found a close connection between the presence of a Catholic school and community social capital.  This connection can have a positive impact not only on the life of the community as a whole but also on the lives of the individuals within that community.

Social capital can be defined as the social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness shared by members of a community with one another.  Brining and Garnett found high levels of social capital among the administrators, teachers, parents and students of Catholic schools.  Social capital can be considered a factor of production similar to physical, financial and human capital.  According to Brining and Garnett, social capital can be viewed as something that helps to produce a better society, less crime, less disorder and more trust.  When Catholic schools are closed in a community, the community suffers.  Many people who support Catholic education sense these findings intuitively.  Saint-Exupery to the contrary, notwithstanding, Brining and Garnett help to quantify those intuitions. Continue reading “Found Classroom, Found Community”

Personal Reflections on JFK, Dallas and the Day that Forever Changed America

One Fenwick priest was there in Texas on November 22, 1963, when our country and a new Catholic high school in Dallas were brought to their knees.

By Father Richard LaPata, O.P., President Emeritus of Fenwick High School

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times

There are some memories that are fleetingly dismissed as soon as they surface in our minds. They are recalled for a split second and then disappear, perhaps never to return again. Other experiences in our lives are sometimes deeply embedded, often return and impress themselves once more in all their detail.

A memory that I will never forget has never laid dormant for long. It visited me once again as I read of the recent release of documents concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It was the summer of 1963. I was a young priest, happily engaged in my first teaching assignment at Fenwick. But Fr. Marr, our Provinicial, had other plans for me and eight other Dominicans. We were assigned to help found a new Catholic high school in Dallas, TX.

I was not particularly pleased to go to Texas, a place I had never been and knew very little about. But I found wonderful families down there who were welcoming, generous and delighted to have nine new priest-teachers in their community. At any rate, we opened the school in late August and shared an exciting time creating a new educational endeavor with eight Dominican Sisters who also were assigned to Bishop Lynch High School.

Then fall came and November came, and an American tragedy occurred. On November 23rd, President Kennedy and his wife came to Dallas. Riding in a motorcade on downtown Dallas streets lined with thousands of people, he was shot and killed, seconds before reaching his planned destination.

One Boy’s Lament at Bishop Lynch

Meanwhile, at school, our noontime classes were interrupted with the news that the President had been shot. All faculty and students were asked to “get Continue reading “Personal Reflections on JFK, Dallas and the Day that Forever Changed America”

If Geese Flock, How Will Your Child React?

Being a kid today is not easy. But then again, it never was, which is why Catholic schools such as Fenwick teach both ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’

By John Paulett

Mr. Paulett is a Golden Apple-winning Moral Theology Teacher at Fenwick.

One of our graduates, currently a student at a university in Indiana, sent me a copy of an article she wrote for the college publication. Her essay told about a college student being transported to the hospital for excessive consumption of alcohol.

“’Four guys carried this kid downstairs limb by limb and they sat him down, and he could barely sit in the chair, and we tried to wake him up, but he was unconscious,’ (a witness) said.”

The article, written on October 10th, stated that, “21 students were hospitalized for alcohol consumption in the fall semester of last year, 20 students have already been hospitalized in the first half of the fall semester this year.”

I am a parent as well as a teacher, and I know these are frightening stories to read. They remind us that young people often face situations that are new and uncertain. Young people can make bad decisions, sometimes because pressures take the place of good judgment.

When I think about young people confronted by difficult choices, it brings to mind a dramatic incident from 2009. On January 15th of that year, minutes after takeoff, US Airways flight 1549 struck a flock of geese. The collision happened at 3:27:11. The plane’s pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully, they called him,) radioed a Mayday call at 3:27:33. At 3:31 p.m., less than five minutes later, the pilot landed the plane in the Hudson River. His recognition of the problem, creation of a plan, and execution of the action happened in minutes. Like most people, I found the Captain’s ability to solve the problem and land the plane in such a short time almost unbelievable. (Actor Tom Hanks portrays him in the 2016 motion picture, “Sully.”)

Captain Chesley Sullenberger

I read an interview with Sullenberger in which he was questioned about his ability to act so well so fast. He said, “I had to very quickly come up with a paradigm of how to solve even this problem.”

His response reminds me of what happens in Catholic education. Continue reading “If Geese Flock, How Will Your Child React?”

2017 VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE: Defending the Shield

Military Friars who have served and presently are serving our nation, fighting for freedom.

By Mark Vruno

The fall issue of Friar Reporter, Fenwick’s alumni magazine, features a tribute to U.S. military veterans.

Patriotism rings out loud and proud within the Fenwick community. The Catholic school in Oak Park, Illinois, may be best known for turning out top-notch doctors, lawyers, business leaders, educators and politicians, but the Fighting Friars make good soldiers, too. And there are and have been a lot of them. One covert, black-ops Friar alumnus prays the rosary every morning at 5 a.m.

Editor’s note: If you know of Friars who have served in the military and are not mentioned in this story, please email us at communications@fenwickfriars.com.

 

Two recent graduates from the Class of 2017, Will Flaherty and Kyle Gruszka — one a wrestler from Riverside and the other a soccer goalie and baseball player from Chicagoare among 4,000 cadets enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Senior Alex Pup ’18, a baseball player for the Friars, will join them next year.

Back home in Chicago, former Fenwick running back Josh McGee ’15 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and now is working in communications while attending community college. Jimmy Coopman ’14 enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry after Fenwick, while Steven Barshop ’17 recently completed his USMC basic training. Kyle Graves ’15 has enlisted in the Navy and ships out early next month. Michael Sullivan ’12 was Army ROTC at Indiana University and now is commissioned in the reserves.

Kruszka and Buinauskas

Out east Mike Kelly ’14 is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. Erin Scudder ’16, a standout swimmer from Western Springs, is in her second year at the Naval Academy. She aspires to become a Navy or Marine Corps pilot. When Scudder thinks to her influential teenage years, she recalls the value of a Moral Theology course her junior year at Fenwick, where she “learned lessons that I can apply to my life outside the of the classroom.” Joining her at Annapolis will be River Forester Brooke West ’18, who recently received an appointment to swim for Navy. Another Western Springer and Scudder’s classmate, Malone Buinauskas ’16, also a member of USNA (Class of 2020) and plays forward on the Navy women’s hockey team. Buinauskas says her first choice for service selection is to become a Naval Flight Officer.

Trent Leslie ’16 from Chicago is in his second year at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY. “I want to be an aviation officer and potentially work for the FBI after my time in the Army is finished,” explains Leslie, who played ice hockey, rugby and chess while at Fenwick.

Otto Rutt, Jr.

Career Marine Otto Rutt, Jr. ’79 retired in 2013 as a colonel in the Corps. Rutt went to the Ivy League after Fenwick, graduating from Harvard in three years with an economics degree. In 1982 he entered the Marines and became an F/A-18 pilot, serving two combat tours: one in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and one in Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 1994. In between those tours, he received an MBA with concentrations in Finance and Business Policy from the University of Chicago. Rutt has been decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, the Seas Service Deployment Ribbon and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.

By 2000 he was flying airplanes commercially while serving as a Marine Reserve Officer. In 2006 he received the distinction of “honor graduate” from the Air War College. “I relish both the history of the Marine Corps and Fenwick,” the former fighter pilot has said. “They are similar in many ways, particularly in the context of excellence and expectation.

“I have a great affinity for my Fenwick experience, particularly spiritual development. One of my most momentous experiences was a midnight mass Christmas Day in the Arabian Desert prior to the invasion of Kuwait,” Col. Rutt continued. “Without Fenwick, I would not have nearly the personal growth and inner strength to face such challenges.”

Sibling Military Rivalries? Continue reading “2017 VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE: Defending the Shield”

Fenwick’s Vision Is Keen and Full of Life

Guided by Jesus, our brother, and St. Thomas Aquinas, our students’ minds want to know and their wills want to love.

By Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P., President Emeritus of Fenwick High School

Father LaPata is a 1950 graduate of Fenwick.

Hardly a day goes by when some institution, business, or government isn’t asked to share its “vision.” Fenwick is no different. It is important that our school be called upon to offer its vision to the public. The only difference is that we have a theological vision. And what exactly is it?

First of all, the Gospel tells us that Jesus has come to bring life and to bring it more abundantly. Because Fenwick has as its mission to continue the ministry of Jesus, it is our responsibility to bring not only “life,” but abundant life to our students. How do we as an educational institution do that? In other words, how do we become life-giving?

Well, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that human life consists in an intellect and a free will and in the exercise of these faculties. It is in the development and use of the mind to know and a will to love that we experience our human life. God’s grace, building and supporting these powers, is able to bring it abundantly. And so the vision we have of Fenwick is its ability to actualize to the fullest every student’s ability to know and love, always supported by an underlying Christian Faith.

Do we fully succeed at every moment to realize this vision in each student? Perhaps there may be times when we fall short, but the vision is always there and will always remain.